Nicola Mason: We here at UC are enjoying an extended visit with Claudia Emerson, winner of the 2006 Pulitzer for her third collection, Late Wife. As our 2013 Elliston Poet-in-Residence, Claudia is teaching and holding conferences with grad students, giving readings and lectures to the literary community, and generally lavishing her delightful company on everyone around. In short, Claudia is lovely beyond lovely—and has been since she was an accomplished but little-known young poet. I know. I was there at the beginning.
I first became aware of Claudia’s work when I was a graduate assistant at Southern Review some twenty years ago. When I got my degree and took a job at LSU Press, I was lucky enough to edit Claudia’s first book, Pharaoh, Pharaoh, which Dave Smith had accepted for his Southern Messenger Poets series. I loved it, and when Dave also took her second book—Pinion: An Elegy—for the series, I asked to edit that one too, and it was an even greater pleasure. I also got to help with the cool cover, which oddly enough was designed by Barbara Bourgoyne, who now designs and typesets CR. Barbara (who also worked—still does—at LSUP) and I visited the musty basement of LSU’s Museum of Natural History, which was filled with giant metal cabinets, the drawers of which held the stretched, preserved wings of hundreds of avian species. Barbara and I pulled out drawer after drawer, pondering the contents, and finally found the perfect wing for Pinion’s cover. We borrowed it, Barbara photographed it, manipulated the image for the jacket, and Claudia was thrilled with the result.
I was already at CR when Late Wife came out, and Claudia was generous enough to send poems to the mag. I forwarded the batch—a terrific selection from her lyric sequence All Girls School (later published in her collection Figure Studies)—to Don Bogen, who was delighted with them and took every one. The day after he sent his letter of acceptance, Claudia was awarded the Pulitzer. Another odd intersection between my life and Claudia’s: Shortly after Pharaoh, Pharaoh came out, she took a position at Mary Washington College—my alma mater—and teaches there still.
Needless to say, it is gratifying to have played a small role in the career of such an outstanding poet and person—and to see her early promise borne out in a big way. If you’re nearby, you too can cross paths with Claudia Emerson. She lectures this Friday afternoon, April 5, on UC’s campus (Elliston Poetry Room, 646 Langsam Library).